|(From chicken.ca — Not John’s farm)|
After his 4th or 5th time out to the barn, but not his last for the day, John Opsteen took time out of his day to talk to me about being a chicken farmer.
John Opsteen and his brother are a 2nd generation chicken farmers. In 1971, John’s parents bought their first chicken farm. In 1991, his brother bought his farm and later, in 1999, John got his own farm after graduating from the University of Guelph.
John had grand plans for this first farm which included a new barn and a lot of renovations. However, due to an unfortunate fire at his parents’ farm, 10,000 chickens moved into John’s old boiler-heated barn. What made things a bit more difficult was that the previous farm owners were still living in the farm house until their new home was ready. John lived in a trailer on the property for many months, sometimes sleeping on the barn steps where it was warmer.
13 years later, John is very proud to talk about his 18,000+ square foot barn with a computer-operated heating and ventilation system and automated feeder that is home to 46,000 chickens. My jaw dropped to the floor when I heard that number. That is a lot of chickens!!
The safety of those chickens is John’s number one priority. The chickens are “free run” — they are free to move about, but stay inside the barn as Canada’s weather doesn’t always lend itself to the environment that is best for the chickens. Keeping the chickens in the barn keeps them safe from diseases and they are protected from wild animals. As John checks the barn, each time taking up to 2 hours, he’s monitoring their food, their health, the temperature, the conditions in the barn and so many other things. Providing a healthy, safe product to Canadians is very important to John.
To ensure that John is providing the best chickens to Canadians, a yearly audit is done. Everything from the cleanliness of the straw and shavings to where the food comes from and how it’s stored is checked to make sure that there is no cross contamination.
There are over 1000 chicken farmers in Ontario and 4 of them are right here in Halton region. Each farmer has a contract with a processing plant. The processing plant has specific expectations for the farmer to meet. This starts by them providing the chicks.
The process starts at the “hatcher” where there are hens and roosters so that the eggs get fertilized. 21 days after incubation, the chicks hatch and are delivered to John’s farm. All 46, 000 of them!
(Oh, in case you were wondering like I was, eggs are produced at “layers” where there aren’t any roosters.)
There are two different types of chickens that John raises — Cockerel (males) and Pullet (females). It takes 5 weeks for the chickens to be full grown. The males will get to be 2.0kg and the females 1.7kg.
In the dark of night, when the chickens are most calm, the processor sends the chicken catchers to collect the chickens. About 7 hours later, 8 transport trucks roll away with all of the chickens. John’s chickens will end up at Swiss Chalet (the males) and KFC (the females).
Once the chickens are gone, John cleans and disinfects the barn in preparation for the next crop of chickens. But they don’t come right away because allowing time for the barn to sit empty will make sure that nothing is transferred from one crop to the next. It is a 9 week cycle, so the barn sits empty for 4-5 weeks.
John isn’t sitting still during those weeks though. Part way through that month, his brother’s chicken barn will be emptied and ready for cleaning. They work together, especially at cleaning time.
During our conversation, I asked John what happened to his parents farm. They still own the farm, but without a barn, they don’t have any chickens. What keeps them busy is a huge, charity garage sale that they organize, using one of their garages as storage for the items that people donate.
Also, I found out that John also gives back to his community by educating others about chickens and chicken farming. He won an award for the great work that he has done!
I’m sure that after we got off the phone, John headed back out to the barn to check everything one more time. Thank you John for the hard work that you do and for caring so much about providing safe, healthy chickens for us to eat!